Finest Hour 156, Autumn 2012
Riddles Mysteries Enigmas
The House of Commons is designed so that opposing MPs are far enough away from each other to prevent swordplay. Exactly how far is that?
Good question! The two sides are separated by 13 feet, said to be two swords’-lengths apart.
—Paul. H. Courtenay
In which hotel did Churchill stay when he was in Munich, where he almost met Hitler, in 1932?
—Dr. Holley Martlew, Via Email
The official biography and its document volumes do not state the hotel, but Churchill says it was the Regina, while Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, the intermediary with Hitler, says it was the Continental.
Churchill (The Gathering Storm, London: Cassell, 1948, 65) wrote:
“After passing a day on the field of Blenheim, I drove into Munich, and spent the best part of a week there. At the Regina Hotel a gentleman introduced himself to some of my party. He was Herr Hanfstaengl, and spoke a great deal about ‘the Fuehrer,’ with whom he appeared to be intimate.”
Hanfstaengl, in Hitler: The Missing Years (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1957), 184 wrote:
“I landed with Hitler at Munich airport to find a telephone message awaiting me from Randolph. His family were staying with a party at the Hotel Continental (not the Regina Palace, Sir Winston’s memory plays him false), wanted me to join them for dinner, and hoped that I would be able to bring Hitler along….”
While Churchill sometimes left a hotel to dine at a favorite restaurant, we don’t believe he habitually dined at other hotels. So, if asked to choose, we could choose the Continental as the actual venue, since Hanfstaengl specifically corrected Churchill’s version, and (since it registered more importance with him than with WSC) he would have remembered the event more clearly.
This would not be the only minor error of time or place in The Gathering Storm. For example, the book also gets the time and number of people wrong for the meeting that made Churchill Prime Minister in 1940.
The Harvard-educated Hanfstaengl is generally thought to be reliable. As Hitler’s foreign press secretary, he tried to exert a moderating influence, but fell out of favor in 1936—he claims Goebbels et. al. planned to assassinate him—and got out of Germany in 1937. In the USA in 1942, he advised Roosevelt on Hitler and the Nazis, and later wrote his book, originally entitled Unheard Witness.
Did Churchill ever make a comment about Picasso? Checked the website and your book but there is no reference to him.
—John Plumpton, Toronto
Picasso reliably said of Churchill (there are many references): “If that man were a painter by profession he’d have no trouble in earning a good living.” But this drew no reply from Churchill and we can find nothing by him at all about Picasso—except one “red herring” in John Pearson’s lamentable Citadel of the Heart: Winston and the Churchill Dynasty (London: Macmillan, 1991), 385:
“‘Alfred,’ [Churchill] once remarked to his friend Sir Alfred Munnings, the President of the Royal Academy, as they strolled down Piccadilly, ‘if I saw Picasso walking down the street ahead of us, do you know what I would do? I’d kick him up the arse.'”
As so often in that book, the author was repeating an unsubstantiated story, vide Mary Soames in Churchill: His Life as Painter (London: Collins, 1990), 157:
“At the [Royal] Academy Dinner in 1949, in his Presidential speech, [Munings] implicated Churchill in an abusive attack he chose to make on ‘modern art’ in general, and various celebrated modern artists in particular. Winston was much displeased, as this extract from a letter to Sir Alfred shows:
“‘I…heard with surprise your statement that we were walking up the street together when I spoke to you about kicking Picasso if we met him. I do not think we have ever walked up a street together, and anyhow this is not the sort of statement that should be attributed to me. I know you speak on the impulse of the moment, but I protest nonetheless against these utterances.’
“Winston minded very much that such statements should be attributed to him—they would have been quite out of character, for he was both modest about his own work and respectful of that of others, whether famous or obscure, and whether he admired it or not.”